Proposed Changes to Building Regulations Spark Debate

First published in the Feb. 12, 2022, print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The City Council is considering development regulation adjustments intended to make single-family home remodels and additions easier, though opponents argue they will lead to massive expansions.

Burbank Community Development Department officials told the council during its Tuesday meeting that the proposed alterations streamline minor projects on single-family homes by making development standards, which range from driveway widths to building height limits, more objective and consistent. They also proposed to eliminate a requirement that homeowners receive a special permit from the city verifying they meet those standards, though they would still have to seek other required licenses.

City representatives said the changes, which the City Council will vote on during next week’s meeting, will reduce the amount of time it takes to process applications for small alterations. A staff report to the panel estimates that single-family home projects that should take six to eight months for CDD to review instead take 12 to 16 months.

It would be faster, according to associate city planner Shipra Rajesh, for a homeowner to get approval for a separate structure on their property than to add another bedroom to their house. She added that many residents have complained that even minor projects have taken far too long for the city to process.

“We are essentially removing any weakness, any ambiguity and making them uniformly applicable [and] uniformly verifiable by all property owners, applicants and the city staff,” Rajesh said Tuesday, adding that the city is not increasing the current allowed floor-area ratio for single-family houses.

The development requirements would also apply to all single-family home projects, removing the exemption for houses of less than 3,000 square feet and with an FAR below 0.35. Projects in Burbank’s hillside areas would still have to comply with the more stringent restrictions there.

But some residents opposed the proposal, fearing it would strip away the stricter development codes they lobbied the city to implement in 2017 after raising concerns about new, bulky homes.

“All I hear from the proposal is bigger, bigger, bigger. I don’t think that’s better,” said resident Pat Tomaski, adding that she might leave the city if the changes are passed.

Some opponents of the potential changes also said that the development review process has drastically reduced the number of appeals against home renovations and additions. City staff members said during the meeting that they didn’t have statistics on the topic readily available, but would provide them next week.

Many local realtors, contractors and residents with home projects in the development pipeline spoke in support of the changes on Tuesday, with some saying they waited as long as two years to add 500 square feet to their home.

“The city of Burbank is not a [Homeowners Association] where the aesthetic of a home is dictated to us,” said resident and contractor John Brennan. “It’s time to be fair and follow a precise municipal code that should be amended as staff is proposing.”

CDD officials agreed there are many positive aspects to the codes approved in 2017 and emphasized that the standards themselves would be retained under the changes. Some regulations would change under the new proposal, with the maximum height for a single-family home increasing from 20 feet to 22 feet. The maximum width of driveways in front yards would also be increased from 12 to 20 feet if the percentage of hardscape is 45% or less.

CDD representatives proposed to the Burbank Planning Board in December that the special permit review process be removed only for single-story construction, but the group voted instead to recommend the City Council do away with it entirely.

“They looked at it in totality and said, ‘I don’t think we’ve gone far enough. I think we really need to be consistent across the board,’” Ramirez said.

The City Council agreed to delay deliberations on the proposal until next Tuesday, citing the absence of Councilman Bob Frutos from this week’s meeting.